World Languages and Cultures

Career Opportunities

Interpreting & Translation

Interpreters and translators make possible much of the international communication and exchange that takes place in the world. The two professions themselves are often confused -- interpreting deals with oral communication, and translation with written materials. Professional translators and interpreters are employed everywhere in the world - by governments, international agencies, conferences, publishers, and many other businesses and organizations. The largest employer of language specialists in this country is the United Nations, which has about 400 translators on its staff in New York. Recruitment is by annual competitive examination and interview.

Interpreters must make quick and continuous judgments about what is being said in the foreign (or "source") language, and render it simultaneously or consecutively into the "target" language. There is little or no time to weigh alternatives. Simultaneous Interpretation is given idea by idea, or phrase by phrase, as the speaker continues to talk. This technique requires speed and fluency and is made possible by the use of electronic equipment. Consecutive Interpretation the speaker and interpreter take turns speaking. A consecutive interpreter must have a good memory and generally needs to take notes of what is said to be certain to give a complete rendering. Simultaneous interpretation is considered to be more difficult, since the interpreter has no time to make notes but must grasp facts and ideas immediately and accurately.

Conference Interpreters serve at international meetings, seminars, and discussions. Some are employed as permanent staff members of government agencies and international organizations, while others are hired on a free-lance basis to work at specific conferences.

Free-Lance Conference Interpreting - In this field, experienced interpreters compete for the opportunity to interpret at international meetings on scientific, political, economic, and other subjects. The main languages used at international conferences in the U.S. are English, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

Escort Interpreters accompany visiting delegations or individuals and interpret for them, generally in informal situations. There are more of them than conference interpreters because many more languages are in demand for escort interpreting. In the area of international business, they often accompany U.S. businessmen traveling abroad for negotiations.

Courtroom Interpreters - Many cities maintain registries of courtroom interpreters who are called upon as the need arises. The greatest demand is in Spanish. At present, interpreters for the Federal courts are certified after passing an extremely rigorous examination in English and Spanish.

The translator is required to produce clear, accurate, and well-written renderings of foreign language texts, from general reports and speeches to literary works and highly technical subject matter. This work demands not only a thorough knowledge of the source language, but also the ability to deal with a wide range of materials and to grasp difficult ideas and concepts. Many translators specialize in such fields as finance, patents, life sciences, engineering, poetry and fiction, Bible translation, or children's literature. As in interpreting, professional translators may work as free-lances or on the staffs of international agencies, government departments, publishing houses, and other businesses and organizations.